Sportsnet Road Trip: Catching the video-game fights in Las Vegas

The Evo Championship Series at Westgate Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. (Robert Paul)

IMAGINE YOURSELF IN the stands for the Stanley Cup Final. Pretty sweet, right? Now, imagine you—regular old you, with no playing pedigree beyond your beer league—suited up earlier in those same playoffs. You were eliminated—it wasn’t a total Disney movie—but you got to take the ice with the best of the best and now you’re enjoying the championship festivities.

If you can picture that then you’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect at the Evo Championship Series, the world’s largest fighting video-game tournament.

1) The tournament is broken into a series of double-elimination pools for nine different games. Two players emerge from each into a master bracket, which is whittled down to the eight who qualify for the Sunday finals—those left standing tend to be professional players. Depending on the number of entrants (more than 2,000 for the most popular games), champions can come away with $30,000 or more.

2) Like a big fight weekend, Evo takes over the town. The Strip is filled with talk about the event, with constant rumblings about frame data, wonder over the big upsets in pool play, predictions about certain character matchups and laughs about the losing player who got so salty he smashed his joystick. So whether you’re at the blackjack table, lining up for a frozen drink at Fat Tuesday, out for dinner or just bravely making your way through the Nevada heat, there’s a good chance you’ll end up meeting and chatting with people from all over the world who share your very particular interest.

3) There’s also a “bring your own console” area, where attendees run side tournaments just for fun.

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4) Held every July in Las Vegas, Evo is unlike any other big video-game competition because the majority of spectators are also there to compete. More than 2,000 people show up to play Street Fighter alone, and thousands more sign up for other games–from the latest instalments in the Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear series to early aughties classics like Super Smash Bros. Melee.

5) Since anyone off the street can register, what makes the finals so odd is seeing gamers you faced earlier in the tournament up there on the stage. It’s the equivalent of a YMCA 3-on-3 where you end up in the post against LeBron James. Chances are you won’t win, but never say never, right?

This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.